Carving a Niche: Crow Guitar Neck Shaping

The snow has let up for a while, which means we can get back to making more cool stuff instead of raking snow off the shop roof for the third time. I wasn’t really too worried about collapse, but it was a good excuse to go out and play with big-boy tools in the snow. Out here in the woods it’s really beautiful and the morning light on the trees takes your breath away.

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I’ve always marveled at how guitarists find it perfectly acceptable to take a brand new instrument to their tech for a setup. In my opinion, a guitar that needs fretwork out of the box wasn’t made properly in the first place.

It’s been six weeks since The Crow’s neck and fingerboard were bonded together—just the right amount of time to do the final relief on the back of the neck. The idea is to let the neck twist or move completely before you radius the fretboard. I’d done a study of neck twisting years ago, and the results were quite interesting. I used two groups of ten necks—one in the shop and the other in a controlled environment. Every day I used a vernier clinometer to measure the amount of twisting that had occurred, and the data was put into a spreadsheet. Just to make sure that the results were correct, I repeated the same test six months later. Same conclusion.

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All of this was to put some real numbers to what I’d speculated all along by the seat of my pants. It all comes down to a sort of actuarial exercise depending upon how much risk you want to take with your guitar. There is a point where the risk of a twisted neck becomes “acceptable” compared to how many warranty claims you’re willing to remedy. In the case of a guitar I make today, the risk I’m willing to take is zero—so I go for the full maximum time. That means that the neck and fingerboard assembly will sit on the shelf  for the full eight weeks. This is the true point of diminishing returns as far as I’m concerned—and the data backs it up.

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Now that we’re at the six week point, I take the neck down to its final shape using a cabinet scraper and then sandpaper. At this point the “normalization” process is almost complete. The fingerboard is still flat, and that’s the secret to the whole thing. In two more weeks, after all the twisting has finished, I’ll cut the final radius on the fingerboard. Because the wood has done all the moving that it’s going to do, the playing surface will stay true for the life of the guitar. An added bonus is that I won’t have to “true” the frets, which is really just “truing” the neck called by another name.

 

 

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Jol

Jol Dantzig is a guitar builder, designer, writer and filmmaker. He has worked for Gibson, Fender, Guild, Ovation, Gretsch, and was a founding partner of Hamer guitars—one of the first boutique custom guitar brands. Dantzig’s work has been played by hundreds of artists including Sting, Steve Stevens, Larry Coreyell, Dug Pinnick, Billy Gibbons, Keb Mo’, Nick Lowe, KK Downing, Glenn Tipton, John Abercrombie, Glen Campbell, Rick Nielsen, Kenny Vaughan, Lita Ford, James Honeyman Scott, Elliott Easton, Andy Summers, Peter Frampton, Martin Barre, Lyle Workman, Brad Gillis, George Harrison, Jeff Ament, Dweezil Zappa, Jeff Tweedy, Nancy Wilson—and many others.

One thought on “Carving a Niche: Crow Guitar Neck Shaping”

  1. Very insightful. Never gave it much thought, but you’re right guitars always need a setup. Some times the store will do it for free when you buy it, other times you bring it back and pay. Even PRS.

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